Despite how normalised happy hour and nightly glasses of wine may have become in our collective experiences of adulthood, the side effects that come with alcohol consumption are quite sobering. Alcohol misuse can lead to issues that go far beyond bad skin and a slow metabolism. Among the more serious effects (such as increased breast cancer risk) are the links it has to the deterioration of cognitive functions such as memory.
With a number of studies having established the link between alcohol and memory loss, it’s important to understand what that means for you, even if your personal experience may just be a seemingly innocent post-night-out blackout.
POPSUGAR spoke to Dr. Ron McCulloch of Pall Mall Medical about just what happens when people experience alcohol-induced memory loss.
How frequently would someone be drinking for alcohol to begin to impair their memory?
Dr. McCulloch says, “Alcohol-induced memory loss will vary from person to person, and there is no definitive period of time for this to take effect. However, repeated heavy drinking over a number of years will most likely impair cognitive and mental functions.”
According to Dr. McCulloch, staying within the NHS’s guidelines is one of the best ways to assure you’re not causing any internal damage. He says, “I would constitute heavy drinking as five or more units every day; anything that exceeds this is considered to be abusive. National guidelines suggest 14 units spread evenly throughout the week as a healthy level to consume.”
What effect does alcohol have on short-term memory?
Alcohol-induced memory loss is very easy to differentiate from regular forgetfulness. He explains that “while most of us will occasionally misplace our keys or forget why we went into the kitchen, those who drink excessively will notice a decline in their day-to-day memory recall.”
Over time, you attain fewer of your short-term memories because “alcohol misuse inhibits the receptors in the brain that transform short-term memories into long-term storage. In younger drinkers, prospective memory loss is a red flag, and those who are already predisposed to dementia will be at a higher risk of inducing this earlier.”
Is there any way to reverse the effects of excessive alcohol consumption on memory?
According to Dr. McCulloch, the only way to halt the degenerative effects of alcohol is through “abstinence”. He states that “the younger a habitual user withdraws from their dependence on alcohol, the more likely they are to avoid irreversible brain damage.”
Seeking support for alcohol misuse is the first step toward repairing the damage. He advises you to “speak to your GP for guidance and support, and they will be able to refer you on to a rehab or detox clinic. With counselling and gradual moderation, it is possible for the brain to repair and to halt cognitive degeneration.”